What Microsoft wants you to think about the Windows 8 beta

The company took the stage at Mobile World Congress to discuss where where it's headed, with "fast and fluid" its latest self-congratulatory catchphrase.

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky discussing Windows 8 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Aloysius Low/CNET

Microsoft today held a jam-packed session at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, detailing Windows 8 and its plans for the future.

Throughout Microsoft's nearly two-hour showcase, the company often used the term "fast and fluid." Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's president of the Windows Division, as well as a few of his colleagues, slung around the term to show how seamlessly Windows 8 performed tasks, like opening applications and letting users interact with multiple apps at the same time.

The speed and fluidity of Windows 8's new design, along with the many differences consumers will find in the operating system, are part of what Sinofsky says, is a "generational change" with Windows. Windows 95 was the last operating system to initiate such a generational shift in the Windows ecosystem, Sinofsky said.

As with any generational change, serious modifications have been made to Windows 8. Since Microsoft launched the Developer Preview last year, in fact, the company says that it has made over 100,000 code changes.

Read on to find out about some of those code changes--and all the other things Microsoft discussed at its Mobile World Congress event today:

  • The biggest news at Microsoft's event has to be that the company has actually released the first Windows 8 beta, which Redmond dubbed its "consumer preview." It's available as a free download right now, and according to Microsoft, has already been grabbed by people in 70 countries around the world.
  • Microsoft showed off Windows 8's functionality on both tablets and laptops, and described how touch technology on a slate and the mouse and keyboard on a laptop can be used to deliver the same experience. In his hands-on evaluation of the Consumer Preview, CNET's Seth Rosenblatt said that "it's impressive how well Microsoft has been able to replicate the touch workflow with the mouse and keyboard."
  • If you're hoping to download some applications in the Consumer Preview, Microsoft shared some good news today: all the apps will be available for free. Once the Consumer Preview is over, however, many of the applications will be paid. Until then, download as many apps as you want.
    An 82-inch display running Windows 8.
    An 82-inch display running Windows 8. Aloysisus Low/CNET
  • Microsoft says that Windows 8 will be capable of running on four "system-on-a-chip" sets: the Nvidia Tegra 3, the Qualcomm Snapdragon, the Texas Instruments OMAP, and the Intel Cloverfield. The same code can be used for both X86- and ARM-based devices.
  • Microsoft showed off several Windows 8-based devices during its event, including an Acer Aspire A5 that comes with a motorized door that opens to reveal ports. Unfortunately, many of the devices were already on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, so there wasn't much new to see.
  • Microsoft conducted its entire presentation on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. However, that installation was running on a USB drive connected to a Windows 7 PC. That was made possible with a new Windows 8 feature, called Windows to Go.
  • One of the more drool-worthy moments of the event occurred when Microsoft demoed an 82-inch display running Windows 8. Microsoft said that up to 10 people, using all their fingers, could interact with the display at the same time.

Looking ahead, Microsoft says that it plans to show off enterprise-friendly Windows 8 features at CeBIT next month. Until then, take the beta for a spin and see what you think.